Feedback Firestorm

Thanks to unexpected attention from digg.com, my brief news post on accusations of discrimination in World of Warcraft has drawn thousands of visitors to this site. Had I known that would happen, I would have spent more time on the post! I don’t normally bother to write about the same subject twice in one week, but this situation seems to merit some followup.

First: many visitors appear to have assumed that I was accusing all language-selective WoW players of racism. I would never make such a blanket accusation, news-based or otherwise. That would be as foolish as, oh… assuming that all foreign players are gold farmers. To anyone who felt unfairly accused, my apologies.

Second: It’s worth quickly glancing at the comments on my post, and on the digg entry leading to it. You can draw your own conclusions about them.

Third: My thoughts on encouraging diversity were idle speculation… intended to start a dialogue, not dictate hard and fast changes to MMORPGs. Multiplayer video games have tremendous potential to bring people together, no matter where they live or what they look like. For years, the video game industry has itself trumpeted this as one of the most promising aspects of games; a worthy rebuttal (among many others!) to the accusation that games offer nothing of social value. All the sadder, then, to see several people make comments like (and I’m paraphrasing, here): “foreigners should stick to their OWN servers!”

Fourth: the most common objection to my post was that players have legitimate reason to reject poor English speakers, since they might not understand directions, might ruin the raid, etc. I readily admit (as I did in an earlier comment) that I would not personally accept someone into my group if they spoke almost no English … it would unnecessarily complicate gameplay. But there’s a wide gulf between “perfect, unbroken English” and “almost no” English. I’ve got friends in Europe and South America who may not be able to spell perfectly, but they understand enough to avoid trouble, play their part, and generally contribute to the cause. It doesn’t take fluency to understand the less-than-Shakespearean instructions I generally hear being barked out during any given raid.

There are many ways to address legitimate player fear of potentially bad group members. One possible solution is an in-game reputation / feedback system (ala eBay), which could be used by players to ding other players who behave poorly or dishonerably while in a group. I’ll attempt to describe my idea of a functioning, relatively low-maintenance rep system in a future post.

*Update: there’s an interesting comment on this post that explains why Singaporeans (among other people) legitimately wind up in English-speaking servers, aside from immigration to the US. It’s 2nd from the top in the list.

*2nd Update: strangely, some people seem to be assuming that I “support” gold farming because I’m concerned about the cultural divide. Not that it should require clarification, but these two things are not automatically correlated…

24 responses to “Feedback Firestorm

  1. Sad that people are replying to your article by saying “foreigners should stick to their OWN servers!”? THAT’S WHY THE SERVERS ARE SEPERATE! Blizzard does not want players from extremely diverse countries interacting on the same servers.

    Also, I have yet to see, or hear about, anyone in game specifically not invite someone to a group becuase they didn’t speak ‘perfect, unbroken english’. In fact, many players I encounter apparently don’t know how to speak perfect english on an American server. While this is depressing, they are not discriminated against. For this part of your argument, I would like to see your source(s), otherwise you have no point to make.

  2. It’s worth noting that, being from Singapore, most of the locals play US MMOs on US servers, even though the Singapore population has a majority of Chinese. Apart from China, Korea, Europe (and occasionally Japan and Australia), I wouldn’t doubt that copies of US MMOs in most other countries are imported from the US.

    Now, Singaporeans are generally quite comfortable with english (and I would echo the point that what’s spoken on WoW is not really english, but its own jargon), but I wouldn’t be surprised if a large portion of non-US players don’t actually have the option of playing non-US servers, since US copies often get parallel-imported into regions that don’t have their own official distribution headquarters.

    It’s also my guess that lots of people are touchy about this issue because it’s fairly common to exclude people who don’t speak your language into your own group, but people don’t want to think of that as racist behavior. Rather than “discrimination,” I’d refer to it as a “cultural barrier,” one that games like Phantasy Star Online tried to overcome with their chat system, and certainly an interesting challenge as MMO companies consider their global strategies.

  3. Yeah…I found out about this from your blog and posted on it myself, linking to you. And let me just say to sceptics like Letifer, Blizzard has actually issued a press release on the subject. So it is a ‘relevant’ issue. Personally I found the whole issue a bit unnerving, to be honest. My initial thought was more of “jeez…organised discrimination because of language issues?” and ofcourse the obvious mistake of thinking all gold farmers don’t speak perfect gramatical English. I think Guardian Game Blog is right when they mention that it is rather the ‘perfect English’ that makes one sceptical. But I also have to say, I was rather touched that gamers themselves are trying to weed out gold farmers.
    As for the solution you’re talking about, I think Ultima Online tried a reputation system, but it failed somehow. I’m not sure how or why, though. I’ll have to look it up…but I’m sure Castronova mentions something about it in Synthetic Worlds.
    Otherwise, just wanted to thank you for some amazing posts!

  4. Actually it seems funny that you would not realise your post would cause such an uproar. It was actually begging to start a flame war. Why? Because WoW is the single most successful MMOG in the history of gaming and has succeeded in dominating both the West and the East, a feat that was up to now considered impossible. And it has gold farmers the majority of whom are Chinese. It’s a proven fact that IGE uses Chinese workers for their services. A friend’s account was hijacked twice and stripped of valuables. He was getting private messages in Chinese for a week afterwards (until the thief’s friends realised that the char was back in his owner’s hands).

    Does this justify discrimination? Hell no. However people who can’t speak or understand English can be a liability and I am talking about simple syntax and vocabulary here, not complex RP dialogues, so these people are really the minority. And that is why Blizzard created the non-English servers. For people who’d rather prefer to use their native tongue and those who simply can’t communicate in English. NOT for everyone who is not a native speaker. Needless to say being a native speaker does not automatically mean one is qualified for proper use of English. Somenone mentioned 733t kiddies and that is very true. Given the quite high average player age of MMORPG players it is safe to say that a majority could not hope to understand teh 7eet talk regardless of the nationality of the speaker.

    And I am sorry to say that your idea for xp boost in multinational groups is firstly impossible to implement and secondly constitutes another form of discrimination really.

  5. Oh and excuse the double-post but in answer to Linn let me add that the reason rep systems do not work in online games is that everyone assumes people vote honestly, while in fact many will use it to slander others in a malicious way. A selfish player will offer negative feedback on a raid leader who wouldn’t allow him to claim sellable loot that others might actually really need. Obsessively competitive players might give negative votes to those who outdamage them in groups or even those with better equipment. Conversely, rich players would actually seek to buy positive votes from poorer/ less experienced ones.

    The question in MMOGs is not: “what would be nice to implement?” but rather “how will players try to abuse this cool new feature?” And that is when “cool features” stop being cool and become show-stopping liabilities. Very few people apart from developers seem to understand this basic truth and it took me many years of online gaming and professional game journalism (more lately) to fully realise it myself.

  6. Ultima Online did in fact have a rep system, but I believe it was very different from the simple person-to-person aggregated feedback system found in eBay (and similar sites).

    As for the difficulty of implementing this (and other) features — yup, it’s non-trivial, and likely to have unintented consequences. But it isn’t impossible. Few things are ever really impossible (or even close). The real question is: should we bother? A cost-benefit analysis is certainly worthwhile.

  7. @Linn: Link me to the press release please? I haven’t seen it.

    I apologize if Blizzard has released something about this subject, but I speak from experience. I have been playing WoW since late December 2004, and for the thousands of groups I’ve been in across multiple servers, not one time did I see any dscrimination against people who did not speak in ‘perfect, unbroken english’. In fact, 90% of the people I encounter don’t speak in perfect, unbroken english.

    I think the solution to the problem is that Blizzard needs some way to verify that North American servers are indeed being populated by people living in North America. Obviously there are some exceptions to this, as I have encountered many people in the military that was stationed elsewhere throughout the world. Nevertheless, people hailing from Asia or Europe should not be playing the North American version of the game, as they have their own. This is what Blizzard had intended.

  8. Hi Letifer — I think my word choice is perpetuating some confusion. It isn’t that some people are requiring “perfect, unbroken english” — it’s that they are requiring better English than you would actually need to participate effectively in a group. In other words, high comprehension but semi-broken english. There’s a pretty broad range between “perfect” and “nothing”, and it isn’t clear at what point you cross the line into being “a liability to a group”. From what I’ve seen, it doesn’t take more than very, very mediocre English to play effectively. Anyway, I’m sure that some groups are doing this to avoid l33t-speaking kids, and I don’t have a problem with that…

  9. Wow, I missed the invasion.

    Just as a note, SL tried the player rating thing. Just recently they’ve had to modify it to include only positive ratings, which I believe was due to vindictive individuals organising mass neg-ratings on players and producing disproportionate results.

  10. Regarding player-location verification, what do you do if a US player decides to travel for a while and bring his or her laptop along? They’re still paying the monthly fees, mind you. Also note that Asia is larger than Japan, Korea and China, and that not every region has its own servers or localized versions of the game. I guess it wouldn’t be that bad if such a limitation was clearly stated on the box (“Only works from US IP addresses”) but, after the player’s bought the game, a compnay can’t just change the terms of agreement without offering a refund.

  11. I was merely using China, Korea, etc. for the sake of example. The point I was trying to make was that Blizzard did not intend to have players use another set of servers. Square-Enix did, for example, with their MMORPG FFXI. North Americans and Japanese interact daily in that game. In fact it is rather funny to talk about the relationship between North Americans and Japanese in FFXI, as the Japanese tend to discriminate against Americans.

    David, I really fail to realize where you’re getting this information from. I speak from experience when I say that this doesn’t ever happen in the game. If Blizzard did, in fact, make a press release about this issue, then obviously it would have to be rampant, as I play almost every day and have yet to encounter this in my year playing the game. Could someone please link the Blizzard press release?

  12. I’m not sure what press release Linn is referring to. Unfortunately, I only know of the article I linked to (and copies of it)… don’t think those trace back to Blizz…

  13. Blizzard or Vivendi Universal clearly don’t mind some non-US players playing on US servers, since they distribute US boxes of World of Warcraft in some asian countries like Singapore.

  14. The problem I have with gamers is their lack of adventurousness. So the language barriers might complicate things… complications are what MAKES an intriguing adventure! When things go wrong is what people invariably remember, not when a plan boringly comes together and nothing interesting happens. Too many people are into “winning” a game which technically cant be won and just accruing points. Power gaming and whatnot. It kills all the work the developers put into trying to breathe life into their worlds.

  15. I’d like to point out that in my experience I have not seen a great deal of discrimination toward people that speak poor english but can read and understand and communicate quickly enough to get the job done. There are plenty of people who play WoW that are native english speakers that would fall into the same category. However, I have seen a whole lot of both discrimination -and- bile toward people that speak almost no english, can’t follow directions, or especially that will send tells or ask questions like ‘U chinese’ – and unfortunately this sort of person comprises the vast majority of my experience with nonnative english speakers in MMO settings. As mentioned in my reply to the last post, people who can’t communicate in a coherent or somewhat fluent way are going to get excluded from most activities I participate in for the same reason I wouldn’t read a novel in broken english, but I don’t really consider that discrimination against those from other countries as I also exclude plenty of people that are lazy or naturally poor native english speakers.

    But as I said above and as other comments said above, I honestly don’t feel this subset of discrimination, against poor but not terrible nonnative english speakers, is rampant. I haven’t seen it at all simply because there aren’t enough people in that category.. I’d say comfortably 95% (19 in 20) or more of my interactions with nonenglish speakers has been a very unpleasant one, and making what is potentially a racist assumption that any given interaction is going to be with someone of this sort is fairly hard to attack.

  16. Not only is racism in the game WOW look at Counter-strike and those FPS games…
    You cannot join a server without nigger or jew or wetback etc being written said etc…
    soo this issue isnt only a problem in WOW but all games and really shouldnt be an issue
    to start out with because its gonna happen theres no LAW’s against it because its over the internet
    . so this really is a dead issue there isnt much anyone can do about it.
    In your first post about the bonus points… that will lead to more and more issues./

  17. See, the thing people construe as racism more often than not isn’t. In one of my current guilds, the words ‘nigger’, ‘jew’, spic’, etc. fly around constantly. They are never to be taken seriously. The internet is a wonderful place where freedom of speech exists in its purest form. While on the internet, there is no fear of being punched in the face of someone who is offended by any comment made. Sure, you often get cocky 12 or 13 year olds taking advantage of this anonymity and honestly might be racist, but I would safely say that 85-90% of all ‘racist comments’ were never meant to offend anyone. Some people have harsh senses of humor, and not all people enjoy it. When I first saw the chat in that guild I thought everyone in the guild to be racist. After awhile I learned that at most, half of the guild is comprised of white males. There is every race represented in the guild, and nobody has a problem with it.

    Now I know that there is the occasional actual racist action or remark, but 9 times out of 10, it will just be in good fun.

  18. Ok frist i would like to say that i am personaly not
    rascist and i am i player on world of warcraft and in
    my 1 and half years playing the game have i EVER herd
    such nonsense.I have never herd of racsist players on
    WOW (only on wow i have herd of it on other games i
    rather not mention)infact i perfer to say that i find
    the wow game to be a very comfy place for people
    around the world to play on.

  19. Why was someone’s comment deleted? I remember the nature of their comment, and that’s why I remember it. Are you one of those people that can’t take criticism? The poster had many vaild points.

  20. Letifer — your comment is absurd on so many levels that I’m not sure how to respond. There are 100 comments attacking me personally on this blog. I’ve left them *all* up — including the ones that call me “dirty Jew”. Go read them. The only things I’ve deleted are: A) a double comment that the poster explicitely asked me to remove, and B) a series of extremely offensive comments made by one person on the original thread that linked to KKK.com and contained nothing but slurs or junk text. Everything else, even the stuff I find totally repugnant, has stayed up.

    You’re entitled to your opinion and welcome to make all the comments that you want, but please, put a micro-second of thought into them first.

  21. I guess you forgot these types of posts: C) The ones that criticize you in such a way that if people were to read it, it’d ruin whatever rep you had. But hey, some people can take it and others can’t. :P

  22. Just dropping in to apologise! I keep forgetting to check for response on comments and that I promised myself I would stop commenting before double checking everything. I’m so sorry…I’ve just read the words ‘press release’ thrown into the question several places so I just assumed it was Blizzard. But it’s the same one linked here, a press release from World of Warcraft Gold. To be honest, it all smells like a pr stunt.
    I’m so sorry to see that this has spawned a tornado of hatred. That’s scary stuff, I mean really scary! Saddens me!
    But anyways…sorry about that! Will ofcourse double check all information twice before writing anything again!

  23. Well I have to say after reading you first entry I was somewhat aggravated.
    This was due to the fact that I have kicked players for 1) Not speaking well
    enough or speaking to 1337 for my taste.
    2) Because they were a known Farmer with a rep for crazy style
    Ninja tactics the likes we haven’t seen for almost millennia. Now is that
    racism? Na I think mostly your just looking at it all from a very close-minded
    point of view. Race is as it would apply to racism is probably 99.99999999% of
    the time, the furthest thing from any one playings minds. Although I grant you
    racism is out there it does not often raise its ugly head in our fun loving
    games. We might steal every dime ya have in AH, but well steal it from ya no
    matter what color you are or language you speak. Just so ya know where I
    am coming from, I have been kicked out of a restraunt for being American. Also
    I have seen a friend hospitalized for 3 weeks by police for being American.
    What kind of experience do you have with REAL racism to even comment on
    the subject?(not only two examples I could give!) But….. Then I read your
    comment on a feedback system to rate a ninjas devastating martial style for
    all to see, and I said hey : D that’s a damn fine idea. Wish there was a way
    to implement it.

    REMEMBER half the time people who cry racism are just as bad as the racists!!!!
    The other half they are actually being discriminated against, but for those one
    there is not usually some one around to hear them and that’s a damn shame.

  24. It starts with the biased moderation on their forums. This was written in 2006 and nothing has changed at Blizzard since then, so I\’m making note of that now.

    One look at their Customer Service forums will show you quite clearly that Blizzard has the worst array of paid idiots going.

    Their newest addition to the frey is Syndri. She will lock any thread that hits the nail on Blizzard\’s coffin. She will entertain and bump every thread that ridicules the one complaining and is succeeding in ripping the poster to shreds.

    This is what she promotes. Dissention, abuse and tolerance when she says so.

    Blizzard really dug to the bottom of the barrel hiring that dumbass. You can report her for encouraging the bias over and over and wonder who she is boffing that she gets away with it.

    It starts with Blizzard. When they condone unscrupulous behavior, the unscrupulous flock. That\’s why this game is the shambles that it is.

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